Ikea is raising pay to help workers but many who need jobs can’t easily make it to their suburban locations

Jamelle Bouie points out that Ikea is doing a good thing in raising wages but their jobs aren’t easily accessible to many who need them:

With that said, it’s worth noting that there’s less than meets the eye to Ikea’s promise to hew to local and municipal minimum wage hikes. Most Ikea stores are located in suburbs, as opposed to urban centers. The Ikea near Charlotte, North Carolina, for instance, is located on the outskirts of the area, as is the Ikea near Seattle (in Renton) and the one in Dallas (near Frisco). By virtue of geography, these stores will avoid city-mandated wage hikes.

What’s more, for as much as Ikea and similar stores might be good for workers, their overwhelmingly suburban locations make them isolated from large numbers of potential workers who lack employment opportunities in their own areas and neighborhoods…

The result is that, for both groups—but low-income blacks in particular—there is a “spatial mismatch” between neighborhoods and employment opportunities.

Put simply, the greater the sprawl of jobs in an area, the less likely it is that black residents will have easy and reliable access to them. Or, as UCLA professor Michael Stoll writes in a 2005 paper for the Brookings Institution, “Blacks are more geographically isolated from jobs in high job-sprawl areas regardless of region, metropolitan area size, and their share of metropolitan population.” And this isn’t an accident: “Metropolitan areas characterized by higher job sprawl also exhibit more severe racial segregation between blacks and whites,” he writes.

All of this is exacerbated by our shoddy, car-centric transportation policy. To get to any job in a place like Virginia Beach, Virginia—where 10- to 15-mile drives are a fact of life—you need a car. Yes, there is a public transportation system, but it’s irregular (the agency had a rate of 18 missed trips per day in March), limited in scope, and unreliable for most workers who need to be on time. But cars are expensive, and black and Latino households are much less likely to own cars than their white counterparts. What comes next is predictable: Plenty of low-income people can’t find or keep jobs because they are isolated from opportunities.

All correct though the increasing number of lower-income suburban residents may be closer to some of these Ikea stores. At the same time, most suburban residents will still need cars to get to the store, vehicles that are relatively expensive parts of household budgets.

Additionally, this helps highlight some of the contradictory nature of Ikea. On one hand, it is a quirky store in the American landscape, exposing Americans to interesting designs and promoting a more DIY mentality. On the other hand, it is just another big box store with locations near major highways, big parking lots, and lots of square footage.

Study tracking Baltimore kids with hundreds of interviews over 20 years shows rising out of poverty is hard

A recently published long-term study of Baltimore kids shows that escaping poverty is a difficult task:

First, its impressive length and scope; Alexander and his colleague, Doris Entwisle, devoted their careers to the project, conducting interviews of 790 children and their relatives over more than two decades. Alexander retires this summer as chair of the Hopkins sociology department; Entwisle died last year of cancer. (Linda Olson, a Hopkins instructor and researcher in the School of Education, is the third author of the report, published this month by the Russell Sage Foundation as a book titled “The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood.”)…

Only 4 percent of the children from low-income families ended up with a college degree by the time they were 28. Kids from a middle-class or affluent background did 10 times better than that, with 45 percent getting a diploma.

Nearly half of the 1982 first-graders ended up at the same socioeconomic level as their parents.

By the time they were young adults, only 33 children had moved from low-income families to the high-income bracket. That doesn’t mean they didn’t want to, Alexander told me. It means they faced too many obstacles.

Stories of rising from humble origins may be popular but they are not the common pattern. Indeed, such rags-to-riches examples tend to be based on anecdotes while a project like this highlights large-scale interview data.

Changing the measurement of poverty leads to 400 million more in poverty around the world

Researchers took a new look at global poverty, developed more specific measures, and found a lot more people living in poverty:

So OPHI reconsidered poverty from a new angle: a measure of what the authors term generally as “deprivations.” They relied on three datasets that do more than capture income: the Demographic and Health Survey, the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey, and the World Health Survey, each of which measures quality of life indicators. Poverty wasn’t just a vague number anymore, but a snapshot of on-the-ground conditions people were facing.

OPHI then created the new index (the MPI) that collected ten needs beyond “the basics” in three broader categories: nutrition and child mortality under Health; years of schooling and school attendance under Education; and cooking fuel, sanitation, water, electricity, floor, and assets under Living Conditions. If a person is deprived of a third or more of the indicators, he or she would be considered poor under the MPI. And degrees of poverty were measures, too: Did your home lack a roof or did you have no home at all?

Perhaps the MPI’s greatest feature is that it can locate poverty. Where the HPI would just tell you where a country stood in comparison to others, the MPI maps poverty at a more granular level. With poverty mapped in greater detail, aid workers and policy makers have the opportunity to be more targeted in their work.

So what did we find out about poverty now that we can measure it better? Sadly, the world is more impoverished than we previously thought. The HPI has put this figure at 1.2 billion people. But under the MPI’s measurements, it’s 1.6 billion people. More than half of the impoverished population in developing countries lives in South Asia, and another 29 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Seventy-one percent of MPI’s poor live in what is considered middle income countries—countries where development and modernization in the face of globalization is in full swing, but some are left behind. Niger is home to the highest concentration of multidimensionally poor, with nearly 90 percent of its population lacking in MPI’s socioeconomic indicators. Most of the poor live in rural areas.

This reminds me of Bill Gates’ suggestion a few years ago that one of the best ways to help address global issues is to set goals and collect better data. Based on this, the world could use more people who can work at collecting and analyzing data. If poverty is at least somewhat relative (beyond the basic needs of absolute poverty) and multidimensional, then defining it is an important ongoing task.

Addressing suburban poverty in Naperville, Lehigh Valley

Two recent stories show the increase in suburban poverty is being addressed in Naperville, Illinois and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania:

From modest beginnings, Naperville’s Loaves & Fishes food pantry has gone from serving eight families in 1984 to helping feed 18,564 last year and greatly expanding its range of services…

In addition to the 4,606 households served last year, Loaves & Fishes also provides job search assistance, public aid, and skill classes in computers, finances, nutrition and the English language…

“There’s poverty everywhere and people in peril,” said State Sen. Michael Connelly, a Naperville resident and volunteer. “Loaves & Fishes provides that safety net as people transition to another stage of their lives, thanks to that spirit of volunteerism here in Naperville.”

And in Pennsylvania:

But amid its McMansions, backyard pools and pristine parks lies a different Parkland, one that has long been hidden but is emerging, family by family, into view. It’s the Parkland of the poor…

Over the past five years, the district has seen a dramatic rise in the number of students living in poverty. A total of 1,605 students — about one in five — qualified this school year for free or reduced-price lunches, the benchmark for determining the level of low-income students in schools. That number could fill more than half the district’s eight elementary schools…

Parkland, East Penn, Salisbury Township and other districts have tackled the trend with new and enhanced programs designed to provide basic necessities — toothbrushes, bookbags, food — and supply the extra academic, emotional and social support that may be lacking at home…

In the Lehigh Valley, where the median household income is about $55,000, the biggest poverty spikes have been seen in traditionally wealthier suburban schools, where free and reduced-price lunch eligibility has jumped by 70 percent or more in a number of districts over the past six years.

Numerous suburban communities are facing such issues and trying to figure out how to address them. At the moment, many suburbs don’t have the kind of social structures or social services to serve larger populations. At the least, schools have to tackle the issue even if wealthier suburbs think poverty is an issue for other places to handle.

Summarizing research on the Moving to Opportunity program

Here is a brief overview of the sociological findings regarding the federal Moving to Opportunity program that moved poor urban residents to the suburbs in the hope of improving their life chances:

The findings revealed that while many study participants “successfully” escaped dangerous and stressful neighborhoods at first, most did not escape income poverty, and many ended up living back in high-poverty areas after a few years…

The experiment was conducted in five U.S. metro areas: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. While the experiment showed that it was possible to dramatically improve quality of life for the poor, helping them escape poverty was another matter. “Many of us underestimated the barriers to employment, for example, for this highly disadvantaged group, and how small a difference relocation alone would make,” says Briggs, an associate professor of urban studies and planning…

The barriers were the greatest in sprawling Los Angeles, Briggs says. “The physical distances are so enormous, and many jobs are not accessible by public transportation. We spent time with moms who were getting up at 4 a.m. and driving 25 miles in one direction to leave their kids with a family member, and then 30 miles in another direction to work at a job where they might be put on a different shift, on a moment’s notice. The job itself was insecure, volatile, and poorly compensated. Lining up housing, work, and child care, and keeping them aligned, was immensely difficult.”

On the upside were dramatic changes in safety and security, particularly for young girls. They fared better overall in these new neighborhoods, escaping the predatory climate of their old neighborhoods. And parents in the study saw major reductions in anxiety and depression, and improvements in mental health, likely because of increased security and “freedom from fear.”

For more details, I recommend the book Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty. One takeaway: simply moving poor residents from one neighborhood to a better suburban one does not necessarily quickly lead to positive outcomes. Indeed, poverty is on the rise in the suburbs (here, here, and here) and it is difficult to provide services in these communities.

The difficulties in addressing poverty in the Atlanta suburbs

Here is a look at how poverty is being addressed in the Atlanta suburbs:

This is not an indictment of Cobb County in particular. Rather, what’s happening in Cobb is a microcosm of the dilemma facing suburbs nationwide: a rapid spike in the number of poor people in what once were the sprawling beacons of American prosperity. Think of it as the flip side of the national urban boom: The poverty rate across all U.S. suburbs doubled in the first decade of the millennium—even as America’s cities are transforming in the other direction, toward rising affluence and hipster reinvention. If the old story of poverty in America was crumbling inner cities and drug-addled housing projects, the new story is increasingly one of downscale strip malls and long bus rides in search of ever-scarcer jobs. We can’t understand what’s working in America’s cities unless we also look at what’s not working in the vast suburbs that surround them.

And there’s a lot about Atlanta’s suburbs that isn’t working. Suburban poverty exploded here between 2000 and 2011, rising by 159 percent. Now, 88 percent of the region’s poor people live in suburbs. On its face, there is nothing remarkable about that statistic; after all, metro Atlanta is huge (8,300 square-miles, about the size of Massachusetts), and its population keeps rising (it’s now almost 6 million, equivalent to the population of Missouri). But fewer than 10 percent of us live in the city of Atlanta itself. So it would stand to reason that most poor people are suburbanites; most metro Atlantans are suburbanites, period…

For suburban Atlanta, as in suburbia nationwide, this shift presents some vexing problems. Designed around a car-centric culture of single-family homes clustered in cul-de-sacs served by strip centers and shopping malls, and fueled by jobs reached by commuting to downtown or suburban office parks, suburbs like Cobb County have struggled to respond to denser populations, increased congestion and, as a result of the 2008 recession, a decline in the middle-class jobs that made it all possible. Suburban Atlanta voters, including in Cobb County, have consistently rejected mass transit that might relieve their car dependency. And county zoning ordinances have continued to favor single-family housing over denser development, exacerbating the problem for the poor who are clustered there in ever greater numbers…

Here’s the most complicated problem with poverty in the suburbs: It’s almost invisible. There are 86,000 people in Cobb County who live below the poverty level. But you could live in Cobb your whole life and never see them, or at least not knowingly. Cobb County covers 339 square miles and is home to 717,000 people. Its poor residents can be lost in the crowd—and lost in all that space.

An interesting look at the myriad problems that makes addressing suburban poverty harder: lack of transportation options besides cars, limited social services that tend to be spread out, race and class differences that get reified through political and economic decisions, and limited recognition of suburban poverty.

Just a note: we need more sociological research on suburban poverty and suburban patterns in Sunbelt metropolitan regions that may be less segregated than Northern cities but are also more sprawling.

American poor can buy cheap consumer goods but have a harder time purchasing important items

I argued a ways back that Americans in poverty who own electronic goods illustrate the ubiquity of these goods in American life. Here is some evidence: the relative cost of consumer goods has dropped in recent decades while goods associated with leaving poverty, like higher education, have increased.

This is the tension at the core of modern impoverishment, which Annie Lowrey takes on in the New York Times today. The wonders of globalization, modern manufacturing, and ruthless Walmart-style supply-chain management have made the stuff we buy to fill our homes and time much cheaper, and as a result the poor now enjoy a level of material well-being that would have seemed unimaginable decades ago. The safety net is also infinitely more generous compared with the early 1960s, before Lyndon Johnson launched his war on poverty. Yet, because the prices of key services are spiraling out of control, the poor’s lot is still rather hopeless. The NYT captures it in this very, very long graph…


New York Times

Here’s what makes this trend so treacherous: Prices are rising on the very things that are essential for climbing out of poverty.

Another way to think about it might be that most Americans have a baseline of consumer goods they own. But, to move up in status or to purchase goods and services that can help one achieve mobility, more resources are needed.

It is too bad Internet service is not indexed here.

If one were to approach this from a Marxist point of view, perhaps the purpose of cheap goods is to keep people distracted while social life and economic life declines or is more exploitative. What is there to complain about what the typical person has a smartphone or a large LCD or LED TV and lots of viewing options?

“Why Did Chicago’s Middle Class Disappear?”

Whet Moser explains the GIF of Chicago’s disappearing middle-class through the work of sociologist Lincoln Quillian:

What’s most striking about Hertz’s map is the transition from 1970 onwards; when the map begins, the lowest-income census tracts are extremely concentrated. Then, as if a switch was flipped, they radiate out from the city center by 1980. (It almost looks like watching Conway’s Game of Life.) The change in those 20 years is immense. And Quillian gives a clue as to why, laying the groundwork for what was happening before Hertz’s analysis begins (emphasis mine):

Modern poor urban neighborhoods, formed after 1970 or so, thus stand in sharp demographic
contrast to poor and minority neighborhoods earlier in the century. Accounts of racial succession of neighborhoods in the 1950s indicate that neighborhoods undergoing racial transition tended to increase in population density, especially in passing through a late phase in racial succession referred to as “piling up,” in which previously white-owned homes and apartments were subdivided into smaller dwellings to accommodate the housing demands of black immigrants (Duncan and Duncan 1957). Although the affluent have always made efforts to segregate themselves from the poor, immigration into cities before about 1970 was proceeding at too rapid a pace to allow inner city neighborhoods to drop substantially in population as part of this process. Indeed, a chief reason blacks desired to exit predominantly black areas of the city before 1970 was because the housing supply in black neighborhoods was insufficient to keep up with demand (Aldrich 1975). With the end of black immigration to urban areas, poor African-American neighborhoods have changed from densely packed communities of recently arrived immigrants to areas gradually abandoned by the nonpoor. The cessation of the flow of black immigrants to the nation’s cities, and the corresponding decline in the population density of poor neighborhoods, may be one unexplored factor responsible for the change in the nature of poor African-American neighborhoods in the early 1970s that Wilson (1987) describes.

The Second Great Migration ends in 1970. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thomson, Hertz’s 1970 map appears to be the point where you can see the wave break and roll back.

Quillian’s data then picks up the narrative, which adds texture to Hertz’s map. Between 1980 and 1990, there’s a substantial leap in the lowest-income-level census tracts, then things plateau from 1990-2000. Here’s Quillian again:

There is no indication in the PSID data that stayers in black and/or poor neighborhoods experienced increases in their poverty rates in the 1970s and 1980s, except during the recession of the early 1980s. During this recession, increases in the poverty rate among the nonpoor were spatially concentrated in black moderately poor neighborhoods. Since these neighborhoods were already moderately poor to begin with, this suggests that increasing poverty rates in the early 1980s had a strong effect in increasing the number of extremely poor neighborhoods.

Quillian was writing in 1998 (here’s another paper from him in 2012, addressing similar issues), but his conclusions accurately foretell the changes you can see from 2000-2012: “Neighborhoods in transition to high-poverty status empty first of whites, then of many middle-class blacks, leaving more-disadvantaged and less-populous areas. The overall result is that high-poverty neighborhoods have been becoming geographically larger and less densely settled.”

So some of these neighborhoods that changed over to high levels of poverty aren’t necessarily the result of increasing number of poor people but rather the departure of higher-income and white residents. They may be poor neighborhoods but they are not necessarily dense because few people of any background (regardless of class and race) are moving in.

Another thought: some conversation about white flight focuses on the 1950s and 1960s when whites moved to the suburbs due to (1) policies that helped make the suburbs more attractive (interstate construction, new rules about mortgages that made home purchases available to more Americans plus (2) continued waves of the Great Migration of blacks to Northern cities. All this is true but this map is a reminder that the processes affecting poor neighborhoods continued from the 1970s to 1990s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that academics started writing important books like this, whether from William Julius Wilson or Paul Jargowsky.

Of course, a key question is how much this is still happening today. Can poor neighborhoods spread even further as better-off urban residents and suburban residents move to wealthier pockets while lower-class and poorer residents are left in emptying out locales? The process may not be over yet and it is hard to find cases where truly poor neighborhoods from recent decades made substantial turnarounds.

DeSean Jackson illustrates how black Americans often retain ties to poorer neighborhoods, regardless of class

Jamelle Bouie highlights sociological research that shows blacks in America tend to live closer to and have ongoing social ties with poorer neighborhoods compared to whites:

The key fact is this: Even after you adjust for income and education, black Americans are more likely than any other group to live in neighborhoods with substantial pockets of poverty.

As sociologist Patrick Sharkey shows in his book Stuck in Place, 62 percent of black adults born between 1955 and 1970 lived in neighborhoods that were at least 20 percent poor, a fact that’s true of their children as well. An astounding 66 percent of blacks born between 1985 and 2000 live in neighborhoods as poor or poorer as those of their parents…

How does this stack up to white families? Here, Sharkey is indispensable: Among white children born through 1955 and 1970, just 4 percent live in high poverty neighborhoods. Or, put another way, black Americans live with a level of poverty that is simply unknown to the vast majority of whites…

“When white families advance in economic status,” writes Sharkey, “they are able to translate this economic advantage into spatial advantage by buying into communities that provide quality schools and healthy environments for children.” The same isn’t true for black Americans, and some of the answer has to include present and ongoing housing discrimination. For example, in one study—conducted by the Department of Housing and the Urban Institute—black renters learned about fewer rental units and fewer homes than their white counterparts…

This can have serious consequences. Youthful experimentation for a white teenager in a suburb might be smoking a joint in a friend’s attic. Youthful experimentation for a black teenager might be hanging out with gang members. As Mary Pattillo-McCoy writes in her book Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class, “Youth walk a fine line between preparing for success and youthful delinquent experimentation, the consequences of which can be especially serious for black youth.”

Even as the details of the DeSean Jackson situation trickle out, the overall point is clear: blacks and whites in America continue to live in different neighborhoods and this has consequences for adult life. One consequence is that blacks tend to live in poorer neighborhoods, regardless of class, and a second is that social ties between wealthier and poorer neighborhoods often continue even when economic opportunity allows one to move elsewhere (see the work of Robert Sampson in Great American City for his social network analysis of social ties of residents who leave poorer neighborhoods – and also where they tend to end up).

All together, the impact of on-going residential segregation is not as simple as living in different places. The social conditions of different places is related to all sorts of disparate outcomes including housing options, educational attainment, safety and crime rates, economic opportunities, and life expectancy. We should not be surprised if we see this play out in arenas like the NFL which apparently has some divided opinions about how it should be addressed (one team releases a good player, another eagerly signs him).

Access to cars helps poorer residents achieve better life outcomes

Cars are expensive to own and operate yet a new study suggests they can help poorer residents:

Housing voucher recipients with cars tended to live and remain in higher-opportunity neighborhoods—places with lower poverty rates, higher social status, stronger housing markets, and lower health risks. Cars are also associated with improved neighborhood satisfaction and better employment outcomes. Among Moving to Opportunity families, those with cars were twice as likely to find a job and four times as likely to remain employed.

The importance of automobiles arises not due to the inherent superiority of driving, but because public transit systems in most metropolitan areas are slow, inconvenient, and lack sufficient metropolitan-wide coverage to rival the automobile.

More research is needed to determine if the relationship is causal or associative, that is, whether the car is the catalyst or if there is something deeper at work, of which the car is simply one manifestation. Cars are expensive to purchase and to maintain, even more so for families with severely limited resources. A low-income household that is somehow able, inclined, or afforded the opportunity to buy a car might also do many other things to get ahead. Motivation, opportunity, or both could be key.

Yet our current findings are enough to raise important questions.

For example, should government welfare programs facilitate automobile access or ownership? In some states, a car would push families over the asset limit for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, making those families ineligible for help.

In a society that often structures space around cars, this is not too surprising, particularly for poorer residents in suburbs and more sprawling areas. Yet, as this summary notes, providing cars is not necessarily easy (expensive) or desirable in the long run (perpetuating problems with cars like pollution and sprawl).

This could lead to some interesting consequences for poorer Americans. If they are increasingly in suburbs or are pushed out of walkable urban neighborhoods by gentrifiers, having to have a car is another barrier to moving up the economic ladder. In other words, walkable neighborhoods – think New Urbanism –  are the rage amongst urban millennials and others who want vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods. But, their quest for such spaces may not leave much room who would really benefit the most from cheaper transportation through walkability and mass transit.